Beijing Not Amused After Tillerson Says US Will Block Chinese Access To South China Sea Islands

Tyler Durden's picture

While Rex Tillerson's confirmation hearing as Trump's Secretary of State was for the most part uneventful, several hours into his back and forth with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tillerson compared China’s actions to those of Russia in Crimea, saying a failure to respond had allowed it to “keep pushing the envelope” in the South China Sea. “We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that first the island-building stops and second your access to those islands is also not going to be allowed” and that putting military assets on those islands was "akin to Russia’s taking Crimea” from Ukraine.

With that statement, America's likely next secretary of state "has set a course for a potentially serious confrontation with Beijing" according to Reuters, which added that his comments are "expected to enrage Beijing." 

Tillerson, the former Exxon chairman and CEO, did not elaborate on what might be done to deny China access to the islands it has built up from South China Sea reefs, equipped with military-length airstrips and fortified with weapons. Trump's transition team did not immediately respond to a request for specifics on how China might be blocked from the artificial islands.

Tillerson said he considered China’s South China Sea activity "extremely worrisome" and that it would be a threat to the "entire global economy" if Beijing were able to dictate access to the waterway.

“This is the sort of off-the-cuff remark akin to a tweet that pours fuel on the fire and maybe makes things worse,” Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra told Bloomberg. “Short of going to war with China, there is nothing the Americans can do.”

He blamed the current situation on what he termed an inadequate U.S. response. "The failure of a response has allowed them just to keep pushing the envelope on this," Tillerson said.

China responded when its Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kand said China has been acting within the limits of its sovereignty. “Like the U.S., China has the right within its own territory to carry out normal activities,” he said at a regular briefing in Beijing. When asked repeatedly about Tillerson's comments on blocking access to islands, China's foreign ministry spokesman said he couldn't make any guesses as to what Tillerson was referring to and would not answer hypothetical questions, Reuters reported.

China's right to carry out 'normal activities' in its sovereign territory in the South China Sea is 'indisputable', Lu said, speaking at a daily briefing on Thursday. He did not elaborate.

Tillerson also said he would stand by U.S. defense treaties with Japan and South Korea. These had been in doubt after Trump said in an interview last March that he would consider withdrawing U.S. troops if allies didn’t pay more for their upkeep. Asked whether he agreed with Trump’s assertion that it wouldn’t be a bad thing for the U.S. if Japan and South Korea acquired nuclear weapons, Tillerson said he “did not agree."

"We have long-standing ally commitments with Japan and South Korea in the area and I think we would respond in accordance with those accords,” he said. “Certainly we have made commitments to Japan in terms of a guarantee of their defense.”

Pouring more gasoline on US-Sino relations, Tillerson called China's South China Sea island-building and declaration of an air defense zone in the East China Sea it contests with Japan "illegal actions." "They’re taking territory or control, or declaring control of territories that are not rightfully China’s."

Tillerson also said Washington needed to reaffirm its commitment to Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province, however he stopped short of Trump's questioning of Washington's long-standing policy on the issue.  "I don’t know of any plans to alter the 'one China' position," Tillerson said.

Curiously, Tillerson's words went beyond Trump's own tough rhetoric on China. Regional military sources said while the U.S. navy had extensive capabilities in Asia to stage blocking operations with ships, submarines and planes, any such move against China's growing naval fleets would risk dangerous escalations.

Tillerson's criticism of China was not confined solely to geopolitics: he accused China of failing to live up to global agreements on trade and intellectual property, echoing past remarks by Trump, who has threatened to impose high, retaliatory tariffs on China.

But Tillerson also stressed the "deeply intertwined" nature of the world's two biggest economies. "We should not let disagreements over other issues exclude areas for productive partnership."

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clade7's picture

Whip 'em out boys!  I didnt get the Name "Tillerson' for nothing!  Lets have a look at your tillers!

fx's picture

Not that the USofA had any particular right or national security interests to defend in the South China Sea. It is nothing new, of course but still amazes me every time anew how arrogant American politicians behave towards the "rest of the world". The USA has absolutely no business sending its navy into the South China Sea, the Baltic sea, the Black Sea, etc. Or stationing its military acround the globe in 90+ countries. YOU DO NOT OWN this entire planet, folks! Get used to cooperating with the other 7bn people not bullying them ad nauseum. guess what? At one point THEY will be stronger and then it will be payback time. (Which , of course, the upper 0.5 % will be exempt from.) So I think it's highly advisable to stop the bullying and blackmailing and start building RELATIONSHIPS based on trust, understanding and mkutual benefits.

BaBaBouy's picture

Losing In Syria ...

OK, so lets start a new War with one of our Friends ...

z80kid's picture

Right. With "friends" like China, who needs enemies?

Blankone's picture

More like they have gained the advantage in Syria and are now going to rotate to pursuing China. 

Putin is pulling russia's aircraft carrier back to russia along with it's 40 aircraft and support ships.  He is also pulling other ground based aircraft back to russia.

“In addition, the first six Su-24 bombers have already been relocated from the Khmeimim airbase to the territory of the Russian Federation. The withdrawal of other aircraft, as well as pilots and technical staff from the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic is planned for the nearest future,” Konashenkov noted.

Two days ago the US bombed another Syrian town using a B52 killing civilians.  Damascus's water supply has been taken control of by the terrorists.  Damascus is now under attack. Putin's response is to remove russian military.

Remember when the fantasy crowd claimed China was entering Syria and would bolster Russia? 

Shemp 4 Victory's picture

Blankone is wrong, again, as usual.

The Admiral Kuznetsov has left the Syrian operational area earlier than its expected March 2017 departure, as the goal of liberating Aleppo was accomplished ahead of schedule. It did not head back to Russia directly. Since Sunday, January 8th, the Kuznetsov and its group of ships have been conducting exercises off the Libyan coast just north of Tobruk.

Yesterday, Marshal Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army, and a contingent of his officers visited the Kuznetsov and participated in a video teleconference with Russian defense minister Shoigu.

In addition, the first six Su-24 bombers have already been relocated from the Khmeimim airbase to the territory of the Russian Federation.

Why didn't you mention the 12 Su-25 bombers being sent to the Khmeimim airbase? Not a part of your Fake News® disinformation narrative?

Damascus's water supply has been taken control of by the terrorists. Damascus is now under attack.

Now you're pouring Stale News®. The Damascus water supply in Wadi Barada is not under control of terrorists. There has been an armistice with the enclave there. Syrian government technicians are repairing the water infrastructure. Foreign mercenaries and members of militias not covered by the Russian/Iranian/Turkish ceasefire agreement are taking the "suitcase-bus-Idlib" ride out of town. Militants who are locals will keep their small arms and assigned responsibilities of a police force operating in coordination with the SAA, and all medium and heavy weaponry will be turned over to the SAA.

Putin's response is to remove russian military sending Su-25s to Syria? I see the grass has come up good for you.

Remember when the fantasy crowd claimed China was entering Syria and would bolster Russia?

I remember how, as is the case here again, you continue to ignore facts which run counter to your efforts to smear Putin and go against your agenda of promoting war against Russia.

Your curators need to provide you with more frequent updates to your training manual.

Blankone's picture

Assad has brokered a deal with the opposition (read big bribe) to get the spring/well back in operation.  Other sources are still under the control of ISIS.  I believe Damascus went 3 weeks without the water and was starting to get desperate for alternative sources.  Note, the ISIS group in control of the spring were not driven out but paid off.

brianshell's picture

Are you advising Senators Cartin and McCain?

Kayman's picture

Those artifical islands are closer to the Phillipines, Indonesian and Vietnam than China.

And our new belligerent China is the result of corrupt Americian politicians selling out their country and American workers for trinkets.

Hey Bill and Hilliary, how's that flow of Chinese bribe money going through your pal in Canada?

Oh regional Indian's picture

The planned big war upcoming needs a credible build-up. For most sheep, this is credible shite...

CPL's picture

They won't have time to float the ships out there.  Civil war in the USA is brewing.  13 factions against some external influence.  Once their toner runs out the cages are getting opened.

hestroy's picture

Vietnam was part of China. Educate yourself.

reader2010's picture

 Vietnam was a China's client state before France took it over in late 19th century but it was never a part of China.

heuvosYbacon's picture

True that. Truth is, China was never part of china. The Han people have been taking over their neighbours and calling the newly created mix "China" for at least 3000 years. First they took over the cantonese, then the mongolese, then the viet.

"Nam" means "south", so Viet Nam is south Viet. To find the rest of the Viet, you head due north from Viet south. What happene to the northern Viet? Indeed. The Han got them. Turned them away from the ancient Viet ways and towards all kind of pomp and decadence.

Anyways, the TRUTH is that China is one dirty great confidence scam, perpetrated by the Han devils upon all the formally proud, pure and good folk of the orient.

Hang Dia!

Justin Case's picture

The Philippines base their claims of sovereignty over the Spratlys on the issues of res nullius. The definition of res nullius is "A thing which has no owner or A thing which has been abandoned by its owner is as much res nullius as if it had never belonged to any one."

Japan unconditionally surrendered in 1945 after their defeat in the World War II. Towards the end of 1946, the Chinese government sent a naval task force consisting of four warships to the Spratlys and Paracels to execute demonstrative possessor acts on the spot. The task force sailed from Guangdong (Canton) on December 9, 1946. The two war ships Taiping and Zhongye set course for the Spratlys and after 3 days' sailing, they reached Itu Aba Island, the principal island of the Spratlys on the morning of December 12, 1946. They immediately sent telegraphs to Nanjing to report on their arrival and later stationed on the Itu Aba Island. The Itu Aba Island was surveyed. The task force also reached and surveyed other Spratly Islands including Nanyue Island, Thitu Island, North Danger Reef etc. The symbols of Japanese sovereignty were removed and a Sovereignty Stone Marker was placed on the Itu Aba Island. They also held a take-over ceremony.
In December 1947 Territorial Administration Section of Ministry of Internal Affairs published a list of South China Sea Islands Names and a Map of South China Sea Islands. The Itu Aba Island is renamed to Taiping Island, the Thitu Island is renamed to Zhongye Island, the commander’s name of the task force is also used as a name of a Sand Cay (Dunqian Shazhou). 
So has China ever abandoned her ownership over the Spratlys? No. The Chinese government has never relinquished its claim to these islands. After the "Kingdom of Humantiy and Republic of Songhrati-Morac-Meads" issue Taiwan has restored the garrison on Taiping Island and the navy has frequently patrolled the Spratlys.

Just like what is expressed in Taipei's response to the Philippines: The world has been on notice for years and years that China has a garrison on the Islands. It is childishly naive to entertain any notion that Cloma and associates' claim to "right of discovery" can serve as the legal basis for Philippine government's claiming and the actions as announced by President Marcos. The pursuit of an private and official claim to the Spratly Islands should be held to be a violation of international law and a provocation to China.

Sean7k's picture

After reading a history of the issue, it is laughable to defend China in this manner. Which China?
Since Taiwan is not China by their own definition, then the Chinese government in 1946 was not the PRC, but Taiwan.

UNCLOS further muddies the waters in terms of the continental shelf arguments.

Then there is history, one whereby might makes right. If China was conquered by Japan, then it loses its' historical arguments. France, Britain, the Netherlands, heck, let's throw in Polynesians from way, way back.

So, the problem with the law is the same as it has always been: the powers that be will determine how the law is interpreted. If it goes against China, then of course, they will have to defend it. If someone knocks them off the rocks, then the issue will be decided for the next leg of history.

Sean7k's picture

While I agree, the US has no business interferring all over the globe and the number of bases around the world (while many are requested or required by treaty), the south china sea is an international sea lane and not China's to command.

There is a reason the international court ruled against China's island grab. They are in violation of many countries' sovereignty rights over islands.

This was very apparent when they moved an oil platform into Vietnam's exclusionary zone under force.

As no other country is able to push back, the US has reason to guarantee maritime freedom in this area.

China is attempting to flex it's muscles, the best way to test strength is with resistance. I think China might be flabby on the sea.

Coldfire's picture

Look, imagine China enforcing "international sea lane" access in the Gulf of Mexico.

localstorm's picture

It's not China's to command, but it is of course American's to fuck around. How comes?

Sean7k's picture

One, international law controls sea lanes. The US has a right to travel and use force to protect itself in those lanes.
Two, we have treaty rights and obligations with ASEAN and the Phillipines which give us options in the area.

As for the poster above, if China wants to protect sea lanes for shipping in the Caribbean, have at it. It might help if they get some diplomatic cover via treaties.

Justin Case's picture

The United States has no territorial claims in the South China Sea, but the White House has stated its interest in upholding international maritime norms. The United States is notably one of the few countries in the United Nations that has not signed onto the UN Law of the Sea convention.

Sean7k's picture

Never said they did. The purpose of your second statement being?
Do you deny we have treaties and therefore obligations with many nations in the area? Especially the Phillipines?
If you want to respond, please direct it to the response.

Justin Case's picture

The Philippine's claims in the Spratly Islands, is not legal, although the Philippines try to base their claims on different bases. The Spratlys was not res nullius, and the Philippines' claims based on geographic proximity and national security are illegal.

I'm not able to relieve you of yoar ignorance, therefore it is impossible to give you a reply that you could acknowledge as legitimate. It is a futile effort on my part. You are dragging into discussion an entirely different topic.


Justin Case's picture

At the recent Shangri-La dialogue, Beijing once again detailed its complex strategy in the South China Sea. PLA Major General Yunzhu Yao stressed that freedom of navigation for commercial ships in the South China Sea has not been challenged and would never be challenged. And she hit the heart of the matter; the US has not ratified UNCLOS, so it’s in no position to impose its interpretation of the treaty on any nation, in Asia or beyond.

Compare it to Rahkundini, speaking for ASEAN as a whole: "The United States actually has nothing to do in the South China Sea; moreover it does not ratify the UNCLOS. So it is not appropriate for the United States to meddle or, even worse, demonstrate military might there. The United States has to be wiser and fairer to see the ongoing dispute in the South China Sea."

Sean7k's picture

Neither is China's. If you want to claim Taiwan, I will grant they have the strongest argument. Until Taiwan becomes part of China, you have no argument.

You still might want to address that whole world court arbitration thingy- you know, the one China lost...

Further, China has attempted to intercede militarily when the US has made transits as well as threatened to enforce air restrictions. So, your General is a liar...

Justin Case's picture

China dosen't recognize nor participate in the hearings of that kangaroo court. If it had any teeth the merica's would be there daily in violations of international law.

It a toothless tiger that provides opinions (in merica's favor of course.)

The Court has a dual jurisdiction : it decides, in accordance with international law, disputes of a legal nature that are submitted to it by States (jurisdiction in contentious cases); and it gives advisory opinions on legal questions at the request of the organs of the United Nations or specialized agencies authorized to make such a request (advisory jurisdiction).

Justin Case's picture

The difficulty with Itu Aba, and the claims of Taiwan, is that Taiwan has never formally petitioned to be part of the Arbitration; choosing instead to publish a persuasive legal manifesto on May 13, 2016 which chastises the Panel for proceeding without considering their interests.

Urban Redneck's picture

There's a certain UNCLOS Arbitration panel that would disagree with you.. one that actually has jurisdiction in the matter.  Which is why Rex would not play Foam Boy's childish game yesterday and call the President of the Philippines a human rights violator.

Justin Case's picture

As regards the Spratlys, a joint development concept is something that both sides have endorsed and is a way to move the process forward. The Spitsbergen Treaty of 1920 (for Svalbard Island) is a good model: It involves all countries shelving their sovereignty claims but agree to share the oil and gas and fisheries resources on an equal basis.

Duterte is the man. He's resolved the issue at the disappointment of merica. He turned down $36 million in bribery money from the Obozo administration and sided wisely with China. They are neighbors, why wouldn't they? Shooting woar only benefit the MIC which is the only industry left in merica.

Urban Redneck's picture

I am the only member of this site with a copy of every petroleum joint development agreement (since the Neutral Zone Agreement of 1922) ever entered into in their possession. Generally speaking JDAs are not entered into when boundaries are contested.  While at the time of signature in 1922 the boundaries NZ boundaries were not finalized, they were subsequently and finally delimited.  The first JDA involving an area with militantly disputed ownership was the Iran-Sharjah agreement in 1971 regarding Abu Musa, and the guy operating that concession is a friend as was the guy who advised the Emir on drafting the 1971 MOU.  

Don't cite the Spitsbergen Treaty to me.  It isn't a model for the Spratleys since it doesn't address division of offshore resource ownership, which is the crux of the Spratley problem.

You're in over your head.

Dr. Spin's picture

China has a carrier, but they cannot even begin to claim to have any experience with it...

Flabby indeed, butt, they know that too. They will blink first.


Justin Case's picture

they cannot even begin to claim to have any experience with it

And this bohum is based on what factual information you couldn't share?

Consuelo's picture



You mean like - up-jumps-the-Devil submarine-surprise, 'flabby'...?

E.F. Mutton's picture

But...but...they want our Precious Bodily Fluids!

shimmy's picture

Yes, and just like all other bullies, all it takes is for people to stand up and the bully is destroyed. Id gather most of the world (as in maybe 3 countries side with the U.S) would probably join together in a war against the U.S.  

American arrogance is incredible. It's eve more icnredible given they keep losing or struggling to contain conflicts oevr the last 15 years. So you can't even handle third world countries like Iraq but you think you'll be able to take on Russia and China and other nations that are far more powerful than Iraq? Brilliant.



Oh regional Indian's picture

War, my friend is not an end, it's a means....

Justin Case's picture

One only needs to review the Cuban missle crisis. The merican imperialists prance around the world pointing weapons at other nations and claiming they are for defence? While their country is 3000 miles away? There are no winners in woar.

That area, South China Sea, is China's exclusive economic zone. Their economy can be destroyed if anything would happen to their feedom of navigation through there. They have no other access to sea that is economically viable. So to who is this a vital priority to protect for freedom of navigation, China's or merica's? China has every right to protect the area. They are not belligerent or aggressive people. They need trade like every other nation. Merica has demonstrated aggression towards China and Russia. China needs to maintain control of the area, just as merica needed to control the Gulf of Mexico.

Exempt's picture

The entire planet is already owned by the cabal of globalists. Agenda 21 was signed in 1992 and people to this day still have no clue. 

BrownCoat's picture

@ fx

Perhaps you missed the news article about China taking an underwater sea-survey drone from somewhere near the Phillipines. Taking the drone (not sure if it has been returned yet) is an act of piracy. 

Thought Processor's picture



This is huge.  Watch for the internal media campaign against Tillerson to now ramp up (edit- it already has).  Foreign policy to get very interesting.

Kayman's picture

"highly beneficial relationship with China" ??? What fucking planet are you on pal? It is a one-way trade deficit relationship that has build up an adversary.

A Chinese totalitarian state made wealthy through free access to the American consumer market while killing family-supporting American jobs is "highly beneficial"?? Well, maybe it's been beneficial to those that sold out the country- I'll give you that. 

Oh regional Indian's picture

I was privy first hand to the selling out of America to China, this was all the rage in the late 1990's via big corp america. GE, GM, FORD, UTC.... they were all in on the game to make China the behemoth it turned into...all under the blessings of one Joe Liberman...hmmmmm.....interesting...who's meddling where now?

trumpala's picture

I can't tell you how wrong you are. You've been brainwashed by the Western MSM propaganda. Wake up kid.

Musum's picture

That one-way trade deficit relationship was intentional. It's a product of neoliberalism: we print money, we exchange it for stuff they make. They get our jobs, we get their stuff. Wall St. parties like it's 1999. Asset prices to the moon!! The bankers win!

Parrotile's picture

If America (and by extension Americans) are / were as smart as y'all pretend to be, you'd have realised the consequences of your actions decades ago. 

America WANTED to use "Cheap Chinese labour", so all the clever, wonderful people gave the Chinese all the equipment AND training needed to produce technology for sale in the USA "on the cheap" - a nice quick way to boost that "Bottom Line", raise stock prices and exnsure big bonuses for the "people that count" - i.e NOT the workforce.

I hope I'm not the only one who can recall the 1995 article in the FT commenting on this exact risk - "exporting technmology may have unseen consequences" - and the very glib assertion that the majority of Chinese (then) were still living in primitive conditions, so "it would take many decades for them to even catch up, let alone pose a technological threat to the West".

Took them just TWENTY years, folks (and no doubt they are ahead of the West in more than a few areas - the smart Chinese are VERY smart . . . .)